Leviticus 03 – Gratitude and Generosity with Fellowship Offerings

“‘If your offering is a fellowship offering, and you offer an animal from the herd, whether male or female, you are to present before the Lord an animal without defect. You are to lay your hand on the head of your offering and slaughter it at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall splash the blood against the sides of the altar. From the fellowship offering you are to bring a food offering to the Lord: the internal organs and all the fat that is connected to them, both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, and the long lobe of the liver, which you will remove with the kidneys. Then Aaron’s sons are to burn it on the altar on top of the burnt offering that is lying on the burning wood; it is a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Today’s chapter talks about Fellowship Offerings. Fellowship Offerings are a voluntary act of worship made in gratitude to God, and are also the only burnt offerings that include a communal meal. These offerings, sometimes translated as Peace Offerings, symbolize peace and wholeness between the offerer, the congregation, and God. As it is a recognition of peace and gratitude, as well as communal, I think this might be my favorite offering.

If you didn’t read the chapter, basically it talks about pulling the fat off the animal and dedicating it to God’s altar. There seem to be two schools of thought on why this fat was so important:

Fat as a choice cut

First, that in offering God the fat of the animal, we are offering something of value – a choice cut, if you will. The fat, nowadays all too often ignored, has historically been viewed as one of the best parts of the animal. Loaded with energy, helpful in cognitive function, and easily rendered into shelf-stable products like tallow and lard, fat is also what makes meat flavorful. A fun little side note about why this chapter makes special stipulations for lambs’ tails: there is a breed of sheep common in the Middle East (and thought to be raised by ancient Israelites) that has a particularly large and fatty tail. It is, according to my reading, delectable. I, for one, am a huge fan of oxtail (the fatty, meaty tail of a cow) so have no doubt that’s true. Taken as such, this offering is a symbolic gesture of giving God our best. In gratitude and thanksgiving, worshipers were giving God the choicest cuts, which, at the time, included lambs’ tail.

Fat as a symbolic covering

A second hypothesis to why the fat is so important as to be dedicated to God is that it is a protective covering. To oversimplify a concept about which many, many volumes have been written: Much of Levitical law has to do with making sure that holiness and uncleanliness don’t cross-contaminate. Often, things were ritually cleansed. But just as often, they were ritually covered, thereby protecting the mundane from the divine and vice versa. The fat that covers an animal’s inner organs is a protective covering, and therefore highly symbolic of the many layers of covering and separation that Levitical priests were responsible for maintaining. (I have to thank the guys over at Almost Heretical for introducing me to this idea – if you want to explore it further you can listen to episodes 84-88. Also, Mary Douglas may have been the first to explore this idea from an anthropological standpoint, and I read her 1993 paper “Atonement in Leviticus” with great interest – available on JSTOR.).

Jesus as fulfillment of Levitical Law

In perhaps the most important blog entry I’ve written so far, I discuss how the faith of Jesus Christ (as opposed to faith in Jesus Christ) allowed his blood to become the ritual covering and purification that we needed to be in fellowship with God all the time. Thus, Jesus didn’t render Levitical law obsolete. Rather, he fulfilled it by fully and completely atoning for our sins and fully and completely cleansing and anointing the world. Jesus is the choicest cut of humanity, if you will, and his blood – like the fat of fellowship offerings before him – ritualistically covers our mundanity so we may commune with the divine.

Generosity and Gratitude

Luke 12:48 reads “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.” And through Jesus, we have been given everything. To be in fellowship with God is a joyous thing, but it is also a responsibility. Nowadays that doesn’t mean ritually burning intestinal fat from a sheep’s stomach, but we can still learn from this chapter, recognizing it as a metaphor for doing good work in God’s name. When we give – whether to the church, or an organization, or a friend – we need to do it freely and in good faith. When we receive, let us be truly thankful. And let us continue to look for ways to keep giving and keep being thankful.

Being generous and thankful is harder said than done, especially right now with a global pandemic, contentious political season, and ongoing denial of human rights for everyone from Syrian refugees to Black Americans. Just yesterday I told my husband that I am really afraid – I truly believe that the democratic USA might not survive the next four years. Fear is normal, and necessary. But it does not negate our need to be generous and thankful. In fact, being generous and thankful right now is probably of the utmost importance. Joy can be an act of defiance in and of itself. It is our responsibility, as Christians, to spread that joy. We must exercise the virtues of generosity and gratitude because it is exactly what the world needs more of, in the face of fear.

Once more I want to reiterate the fact that God made this special fellowship offering so all worshipers could have communion with God. The meat is shared between the altar, the priests, and the worshipers. It is an invitation from God to be with Xyr in celebration and gratitude. It is up to us to accept that invitation. Now that we are fully covered in Jesus’ blood, we are able to do so all the time. We won’t always live up to the standards set for us, but that’s the great thing about Jesus: we get to keep trying. So try with me, won’t you? Let us be generous and grateful in the world, counteracting fear with joy. Let us continue to bring God our best, in good faith and in loving fellowship.

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